Important acquisitions

A famous Fife trial: the Kirkcaldy duel case.

Author Anon.
Title A famous Fife trial: the Kirkcaldy duel case.
Imprint Cork: Purcell and Company
Date of Publication 1893
Language English
Notes This 16-page pamphlet records the basic details of one of the most famous murder trials in Scotland in the 19th century. David Landale, a linen merchant from Kirkcaldy in Fife, was tried for the murder of George Morgan in a duel which took place on 23 August, 1826. It was the last recorded fatal duel that took place in Scotland. The shooting of Morgan by Landale was the culmination of a dispute between the two men that had started the previous year. Landale's business was suffering major cash flow problems when his banker Morgan had suddenly and unexpectedly refused to help him pay his creditors. Morgan was a vindictive and irascible man, who took exception to Landale's subsequent decision to take his business elsewhere. He began to spread rumours in the town about the merchant's lack of creditworthiness. In June 1826 Landale complained bitterly in a letter to the Bank of Scotland headquarters in Edinburgh about Morgans conduct. The Bank took Landale's allegations seriously and admonished Morgan and his brother (and fellow-banker), David, for discussing bank matters and Landale's financial affairs in public, but chose not to punish them. George Morgan took this reprieve from the Bank as a green light to pursue his own personal grudge with the merchant. He was incensed that Landale had gone behind his back and had written to the Bank of Scotland directly; he demanded an immediate written apology for the allegations in the letter. Landale refused to apologise but did not rise to the bait of challenging Morgan to a duel, Morgan being reluctant to issue a challenge himself. There followed a tense stand-off between the two men, neither of them willing to back down and apologise, which was finally broken on the morning of 22 August when Morgan spotted Landale in Kirkcaldy's High Street and hit him across the shoulders with his umbrella while shouting "Take you that, sir!" Landale sought refuge in a shop only to be pursued in there by Morgan crying, "By God, sir, you shall have more of this yet!" Landale fled, briefly pursued by Morgan, only to return to the scene of the attack to find Morgan had also gone back there; his reaction was to call Morgan "a poor, silly coward". After being assaulted in public Landale now had no alternative but to write to Morgan and to demand "the satisfaction which as a gentleman I am entitled to". He challenged Morgan to a duel at seven o'clock the following morning with pistols, even though he later claimed that he had never fired a gun in his life and did not own any pistols; moreover, Morgan was a former army officer who was used to handling firearms. Despite one final attempt by Morgan's second, on the night of the 22nd, to resolve the dispute, the duel proceeded as planned on 23 August in a field just outside Kirkcaldy. Morgan fired and missed but Landale, having purchased a pair of pistols in Edinburgh the previous day, mortally wounded his adversary. Landale escaped to Cumbria to avoid arrest but returned to Scotland the following month to face trial for murder, confident he would be cleared. The trial took place in Perth on September 22 in a packed and boisterous courthouse. Landale was represented by two of the leading advocates of the day: Henry Cockburn (a record of the trial, kept his clerk, is now in the NLS's manuscript collections: Adv.MS.9.1.2) and Francis Jeffrey, best known today as a literary critic. Cockburn and Jeffrey argued convincingly that Landale had not acted out of malice, had been reluctant to challenge Morgan, and had been subject to sustained and intolerable provocation by Morgan. After a five-hour trial, the jury only need two minutes to acquit Landale. The judge dismissed him from the court room, commenting on his honourable and unsullied character. He returned to Kirkcaldy to carry on running his business, later becoming provost of Kirkcaldy. In an incredible twist of fate, one of his daughters, Ellen, married in 1851 Alexander Morgan, nephew of George Morgan, a sign that both families had long become reconciled. Another daughter, Eliza Gage Landale, married William Lane, an Irish landowner. He owned Mount Vernon in Cork, a Georgian mansion in the city, which is still there today. As Cork is the place of publication of this pamphlet, she must have been involved in getting this work privately printed. The text is largely based on an anonymous account of the trial published in 1826 'Report of the trial of David Landale Esq., before the Circuit Court of Justiciary at Perth'. Her motives for publication, nearly 70 years after the event, are unclear. The inscriptions in this copy show that Eliza presented this copy to her son, Samuel, and at the back she records basic details of her father's life and the fact that her sister had married the nephew of the man her father had "the misfortune to kill".
Shelfmark AB.1.214.31
Reference Sources James Landale, 'Duel: a true story of death and honour', (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2005).
Acquired on 28/03/14
Search for Important Acquisitions
      

 

Please let us know what you think of this resource, if you have information to add about an acquisition, or if you have rare Scottish books that you would like to donate or sell. E-mail us at rarebooks@nls.uk

Back to Important Acquisitions Introduction